Swine Flu: The Big Name on Campus

September 25, 2009 07:00 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
As the flu season begins, college administrators worry about the spread of the swine flu virus, but students remain largely unfazed by the risks.

Students Don’t Seem to Fear Swine Flu

In spite of warnings and alerts, college students aren’t concerned about the risk of swine flu on campuses around the nation. Meanwhile, college administrators are struggling to hinder the spread of the contagious virus “amid the almost round-the-clock microbe-swapping behaviors of college students,” Dorie Turner reports for The Associated Press.

Due to the mild nature of the current virus strain, many students are ignoring the potential dangers of infection, and not heeding advice such as to “isolate themselves once they begin coughing and sneezing,” the AP explains. The communal nature of the college lifestyle, however, makes it the perfect environment for a quick spread of the unpredictable swine flu virus.

“There's not a better way of transmitting germs than packing hundreds of young people into poorly ventilated party rooms and sharing glasses, smoking materials, playing beer pong and kissing,” Dr. James Turner, president of the American College Health Association, told the AP.

According to data from the American College Health Association, the total number of students with swine flu-like symptoms rose to 13,434 after 253 colleges participated in a voluntary survey earlier this month, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. As the AP notes, however, two students have already died from the flu—one at Troy University in Alabama and one at Cornell University in New York. Those numbers could potentially increase “as more students with other health problems contract the virus.”

Still, the pervading swine flu threat hasn’t altered most college students’ daily routines. Apart from using hand sanitizer and being careful about hygiene, students are living their lives as they normally would. Todd Cohen, director of university relations at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, told CNN the best way to mitigate the rapid spread of the virus is for students to “tak[e] personal action” when it comes to prevention. Once students get infected, however, there’s little school health centers can do to improve matters. “They're basically told to go home and rest and get better,” Cohen said.

Swine Flu Takes on College Athletes

Team sports such as football also present a very favorable environment for the spread of the swine flu virus, as college teams at Duke, Tulane, Washington State and several others have learned. Facing the possibility of many of their players going out of commission due to the virus, coaches are harping on prevention techniques for their players, ordering them to “wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, lest their teams join those who have been hit hard by the bug,” Ralph D. Russo reports for the AP.

As the AP explains, “two or three dozen players” at Duke University got infected by the flu in early August, before the start of the season, and had to rest for approximately 10 days in order to regain their health. Similarly, 16 players at Washington State University were affected by an outbreak hitting the entire school. Due to team practices, football players spend a lot of time together, enhancing the possibility of virus transmission. The questionable hygienic conditions in communal lockers also give rise to a faster spread of bacterial infections, Russo writes for the AP.

Prevention and Damage Control

Rodale, a health and wellness publisher, presents “The Swine Flu Guide for College Students,” a complete guide that offers simple advice on preventing infection. Apart from practicing good hygiene, avoiding large crowds and staying home in case of sickness, the site warns students with “underlying medical issues” to seek professional help as soon as symptoms start to appear. Though the symptoms associated with swine flu are many and varied, “fever, fatigue, body aches, coughing, and lack of appetite,” together with “runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea” are the most common ones.

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